For all the fuss I make about Christmas, Thanksgiving may actually be my favorite holiday. A day of eating, d drinking and lounging? What's not to like? Still, the first time I was planning to host a crowd for Thanksgiving I was nervous. I called my mom and asked for advice. She told me something that has helped me every year since, "Thanksgiving isn't hard." And it isn't.
Multitudes of sitcoms and movies have
reinforced a myth that Thanksgiving dinner inevitably is a disaster. Pair that with hosts who may rarely entertain (or even cook)
on other days of the year plus the pressure of potentially judgmental
relatives, and it's easy to see how people could get freaked out.
If you are feeling the pressure of hosting Thanksgiving take a deep
breath and say it with me, "It's just a dinner." Actually, roasting a
turkey, like most cooking that occurs over several hours, is pretty
forgiving. If you relax you and follow the recipes you should be
fine, but here are some tips to reduce your stress and increase your chances of a successful Thanksgiving meal:
Plan for a cocktail hour (or at least a snack time). Hungry,
impatient guests will only make you anxious. Put out some food that
your guests can pick at. Choose things that won't add to your stress.
Cheese and crackers or bowls of nuts are fine. Serve some wine. If
everyone is relaxed and being fed a little you won't feel as rushed to
get the meal to the table.
Simplify the food. Traditional Thanksgiving meals are made up of basic homey foods. There is no need to attempt the gourmet recipe you saw on
the cover of a food magazine.
Don't do anything you don't want to do. I personally don't like gravy, and I don't like making it since it generally needs to be
done at the last minute (see below). After a few holidays I noticed
that my friends don't use a lot of gravy either, so I
stopped making it. I buy a jar of gravy. I warm it and add some extra seasoning.
It's fine, and I save my homemade efforts for stuff I enjoy. Maybe you
love gravy. Fine. The point is that only making things you love will be more
rewarding and therefore less stressful.
Ask for help. Whether you ask people to bring something or just ask
them to mash some potatoes most guests are happy to help. Of course, if people in your kitchen
add to your stress make sure they have something to keep their attention in the other room. If cocktails
and snacks aren't enough to keep them away, enlist someone to lead a
party game. Be sure to have cards or a simple group game like
Apples-to-Apples ready to go just in case.
Avoid things that have to be prepared at the last minute. As I
suggested in my previous post, front loading your schedule is a good
way to make your day less stressful AND give you a chance to actually
spend time with your guests. It's not to late to tweak your menu a bit
to make this possible. And lest you think that simple, make-ahead items
are boring, below is a recipe one of my Thanksgiving crowd
pleasers: Brandied Cranberries.
But if you are still nervous about preparing the meal keep your sense
of humor and some delivery menus nearby. Or just go out. Thanksgiving
should be about giving thanks for what you have, if skill as a hostess
is not one of those things that's okay.
Brandied Cranberries (from my mom)
Pick over 4 cups (approximately 1 lb) of fresh or frozen cranberries pulling out any bad ones.
Line a large baking pan with foil and arrange berries on it in a single
layer. Sprinkle 2 generous cups of sugar over berries. (It will look
like too much, but it won't be.) Cover with another piece of foil and
seal the edges. Bake in 350 degree oven for one hour. Cool. Mix with a
quarter cup of brandy or cognac and sprinkle with sugar to taste. You
can store the cranberries in the refrigerator for several days.